Post-Gafcon Contention – Reply to Fulcrum on GAFCON 2018

Prof. Stephen Noll looks at the arguments raised against GAFCON III

Following Gafcon 2018, Fulcrum – “Renewing the Evangelical Centre” – published a “Response to GAFCON 2018” to the Conference and its “Letter to the Churches.” In a spirit of theological engagement, I am posting this Reply

Note: Although I served on the Gafcon Statement Group, the views here expressed are solely my own. 

Fulcrum Response to GAFCON 2018

Concerning the GAFCON 2018 Conference in Jerusalem, and its Letter to the Churches, we outline eight encouragements, five questions and five observations.

Eight Encouragements

  1. GAFCON remains in the Anglican Communion.
  2. There was manifest: a wide international composition of attendees; heartening biblical expositions; joyful fellowship; culturally diverse worship; and a delightful sense of pilgrimage in the Holy Land.
  3. The tone of the ‘Letter to the Churches’ is serious and measured.
  4. The traditional doctrine of ‘marriage’ is set out clearly and in a wide context.
  5. There is a stress on prayerful, bold, mission.
  6. There is an emphasis on the uniqueness of Christ.
  7. There is a critique of the ‘prosperity gospel’ and of ‘theological revisioning’.
  8. There is mention of the need for discipline in the Church.

Reply: I appreciate this list and think it does express the position of the Gafcon movement. Why not explain further the significance of these “encouragements” and contrast them with the lack thereof in the official Communion gatherings, not to mention those of TEC, Canada, Scotland, Brazil and NZ? For instance, do you agree that the “traditional doctrine of marriage” is the only true doctrine according to Scripture? Do you agree that the uniqueness of Christ is essential to the Gospel and is under attack from within and without the Church? Do you approve the need for church discipline, and if Gafcon’s way of providing discipline is mistaken, what alternative do you suggest?

Five Questions

  1. On what authority, and by what processes of discernment, does the substantial authority come, which the GAFCON Primates’ Council claims for itself, to define what is a Province of the Anglican Communion?

Comment: While recognising the pain and hurt of those in GAFCON whose provinces have rejected Communion teaching on sexuality and acted unilaterally, no ecclesiological explanation for this claim to authority is given.

Reply: Gafcon’s problem with those who have rejected Communion, i.e., biblical, teaching on sexuality, is not a matter of “pain and hurt” but of heresy, of putting souls at risk by blessing those practices which St. Paul teaches will cause them to forfeit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Ephesians 5:5). It was due to this very threat to the Gospel that Reformers like John Jewell invoked the authority of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church over against the See of Rome. Further, what authority does Lambeth have to declare Provinces of the Anglican Communion in or out since the all the actions of the Instruments are merely advisory, a feature built into the DNA of the Communion structures from the first Lambeth Conference in 1867 (see Essay 8 of my The Global Anglican Communion)?

  1. Why is there such a reaction against phrases which have been a focus of reconciliation discussions, by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other Instruments of Communion?

Letter: Slogans such as “walking together” and “good disagreement” are dangerously deceptive in seeking to persuade people to accommodate false teaching in the Communion.’

Comment: Walking together, some at a distance’ (and the second part is significant) was the phrase used by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his reflections on the Primates’ Meeting of January 2016:

The meeting reached a point on Wednesday where we chose quite simply to decide on this point – do we walk together at a distance, or walk apart? And what happened next went beyond everyone’s expectations. It was Spirit-led. It was a ‘God moment’.

It may be that ‘Disagreeing Well’, also used by the Archbishop of Canterbury, is a more nuanced phrase than ‘Good Disagreement’, and this would help the concept to be better understood.

Reply: My, my, what parsing of terms: see Good Disagreement (2015) and “Why Disagreement Is Not Good.” How “nuanced” is Canterbury in steadfastly ignoring the Gafcon movement, in dismissing the ACNA and others as not even Anglican, in inviting Michael Curry to preach on the world stage. Justin Welby had a golden opportunity upon his accession to offer serious consideration of their concerns and he chose not to. Meanwhile, the Primates’ “Gathering” in 2015 and the Primates’ Meeting in 2016 were classic examples of manipulation and double-speak. Expect more of the same in 2020.

  1. Are the new structures within GAFCON, a preparation for an alternative Communion?

Letter: We endorse the formation of Gafcon Branches where necessary and of a Panel of Advisors, comprising bishops, clergy and lay representatives from each Gafcon Province and Branch, to provide counsel and advice to the Primates Council. Together with the Primates, the Panel of Advisors form a Synodical Council to bring recommendations to the Gafcon Assembly. The Synodical Council met for the first time at this Conference…’

Comment: While presented as simply a matter of better internal governance – and such greater accountability structures are welcome – these mirror and replicate (in the case of Networks) the structure and activities of the Anglican Communion.

Reply: Is this the ACC Secretary General speaking? Are you not aware of the many, many times conservatives have gone in good faith to Communion meetings only to find their concerns swept under the carpet? Do you think the Gafcon Conferences would ever have taken off if they had worked within the system?

As for the substantive question of whether Gafcon is forming an alternative Communion, the Letter is forthright:

Over the past twenty years, we have seen the hand of God leading us toward a reordering of the Anglican Communion. Gafcon has claimed from the beginning: “We are not leaving the Anglican Communion; we are the majority of the Anglican Communion seeking to remain faithful to our Anglican heritage.”

This statement is consistent with what Gafcon said in the 2008 Jerusalem Statement:

Our fellowship is not breaking away from the Anglican Communion. We, together with many other faithful Anglicans throughout the world, believe the doctrinal foundation of Anglicanism, which defines our core identity as Anglicans, is expressed in these words: The doctrine of the Church is grounded in the Holy Scriptures and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular, such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal. We intend to remain faithful to this standard, and we call on others in the Communion to reaffirm and return to it. While acknowledging the nature of Canterbury as an historic see, we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Can the “official” Anglican churches in North America, Scotland, Brazil and New Zealand in good faith affirm this statement of Anglican identity? Can the Church of England?

  1. Why discourage Bishops from attending the Lambeth Conference 2020, and others from meetings of the Instruments of Communion?

Letter: In the event that this [inviting bishops of ACNA and of the GAFCON recognised Anglican Church of Brazil and not inviting TEC bishops] does not occur, we urge Gafcon members to decline the invitation to attend Lambeth 2020 and all other meetings of the Instruments of Communion.’

Comment: Legitimate concerns about appropriate invitations to Lambeth 2020 do need taking seriously. Not all Bishops were invited to Lambeth 2008. Since then, the Primates’ Meeting of 2016 issued ‘consequences’ against The Episcopal Church, and the Primates’ Meeting of 2017 extended these to the Scottish Episcopal Church. Also, developments in the Anglican Church of Canada and the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia are significant.

Nevertheless, the rationale of this GAFCON discouragement concerning Lambeth 2020 is unclear and unwise. There is a French proverb: ‘Les absents ont toujours tort’ – ‘those who are absent are always wrong’ implying that ‘those who absent themselves lose the power to influence discussion.’

It seems very likely that some of the Bishops present at GAFCON 2018 will indeed come to Lambeth 2020 and others in their dioceses will be involved in meetings of the other Instruments of Communion in the lead up to it. There are a series of short Countdown to Lambeth’ videos on the Anglican Communion site by Primates and Bishops from the South of the Communion (including Bishop Mouneer Anis, an influential figure in the Global South Anglican movement) about the significance of attending Lambeth 2020.

Reply: Oh, please. Gene Robinson was not invited in 2008 only because he was a public relations disaster waiting to happen. Will Justin Welby invite all the practicing homosexual bishops in TEC, Canada, and elsewhere to Lambeth 2020? Will he invite all those who have laid hands on said bishops to consecrate them? As to the slaps on the wrist of TEC and SEC, how can “consequences” for violating the Word of God expire, conveniently in 2020?

We in Gafcon have our own proverb based on twenty years of experience: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

The “discouragement” of Gafcon bishops is principled and relational. I have put it this way, based on Psalm 55:12-14:

how can you sit in council in Jerusalem and enjoy sweet fellowship with brothers who have been expelled from their churches, sued out of their properties, defrocked from their ministries, and denied even the name of “Anglican” (as was stated in the latest Lambeth Primates’ Communiqué) and then turn around and sit at table in Canterbury with bishops of the Episcopal Church (and others) who have expelled these brothers? 

Yes, some of the bishops at Gafcon will go to Lambeth, even though the “Letter to the Churches” urges them not to. And many more will not attend as in 2008. Is the Archbishop concerned about this division? Then let him deal seriously with the questions of biblical truth posed to him in the Letter. Perhaps he can surprise everyone by not ignoring these matters as he and his predecessors have done for twenty years. But I am not holding my breath on this one.

  1. Why quote Lambeth 1.10 selectively?

Letter: ‘The resolution rightly called for pastoral care for same sex attracted persons. At the same time, it described homosexual practice as “incompatible with Scripture” and rejected both the authorisation of same sex rites by the Church and the ordination of those in same sex unions.’

Comment: Most of section (c) of Lambeth 1.10, was not included in this summary of Lambeth 1.10. Section (c):

recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God’s transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;

Only this part of section (d) was included:

While rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture,

and it did not continue with the sentence which includes:

and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;

So this selective quotation, which omits: ‘listening’; ‘God’s love’; ‘full members of the Body of Christ’; and the need to condemn ‘irrational fear of homosexuals’ and ‘violence’ is not helpful.

We are concerned about the failure of some GAFCON provinces to follow these parts of Lambeth 1.10 and to take seriously the abuse of sexual minorities in their cultures and legal systems.

Reply: The Letter quoted only the normative portions of Lambeth I.10 about God’s design of human sexuality as revealed in Scripture because it is these norms that have been blatantly violated in the Communion since 1998. It is simply false to say that Gafcon churches are not seeking to offer pastoral help to those who struggle with same-sex attraction and other sexual disorders. See “Lambeth Speaks Plainly” (Essay 6 in The Global Anglican Communion) for a fuller exposition of Lambeth I.10.

You seem to take Lambeth I.10 as authoritative. Does Justin Welby? Has he everaffirmed that the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Scripture teaches only two ways of godly sexuality: marriage and abstinence? If he does teach this, let him declare it and invite all who hold that teaching, gay and straight, to meet and think through pastoral strategies to reach our broken culture.

Five Observations

  1. Presence and Absence

According to GAFCON, there were 1,950 representatives from 50 countries, including 316 bishops, 669 other clergy and 965 laity. In particular there were many bishops from Nigeria and Uganda.

We observe that there were present from the Church of England two active Suffragan Bishops (Bishop Rod Thomas of Maidstone and Bishop Keith Sinclair of Birkenhead), one retired Diocesan Bishop (Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester) and one retired Suffagan Bishop (Bishop Wallace Benn of Lewes).

From the Church of England, we observe that all serving Diocesan Bishops and all serving Suffragan Bishops (except the two mentioned above) were absent.

From Africa, Archbishop Maimbo Mndolwa (Archbishop of Tanzania) we observe was not present. According to GAFCON, Bishop Mouneer Anis (Bishop of the Diocese of Egypt, North Africa and the Horn of Africa) and Archbishop Justin Badi Arama, (new Primate of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan) could not be present for visa reasons.

  1. Ordained Women

Female priests were invited and welcomed and were present on the platform during several services.

Amongst the UK group, we observe that there were only two ordained women, although others were invited: one from the Church of England and one from the Church in Wales.

  1. Importance of the Anglican Communion

Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit (Archbishop of Kenya) was present and gave a nuanced interview to ‘Covenant’ about GAFCON and stressed the significance of staying in the Anglican Communion.

Bishop Tito Zavala (Bishop of Chile), in a plenary expository address on the resurrection, mentioned the significance of staying in the Anglican Communion. Before lunch members of the GAFCON Primates’ Council appeared on the platformwith him as he reiterated his firm support of GAFCON.

Archbishop Suheil Dawani (Archbishop in Jerusalem, and Primate of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East) invited delegates to Evensong at St George’s Cathedral on the Sunday and also addressed the conference on the Monday, outlining the need for reconciliation amongst Anglicans.

  1. Leadership of GAFCON

We observe that the chairmanship of GAFCON has moved from Africa to North America. It has passed from Archbishop Nicholas Okoh (Archbishop of Nigeria, which is a Province of the Anglican Communion), to Archbishop Foley Beach, (Archbishop of the Anglican Church of North America, which is not a Province of the Anglican Communion). Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi (Archbishop of Jos, Nigeria) has succeeded Bishop Peter Jensen (former Archbishop of Sydney) as General Secretary.

  1. Communion Partners

‘Communion Partners’, the group in both The Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Church of Canada which is conservative on issues of sexuality, has relaunched its website prior to TEC’s General Convention this month. It includes their statement, ‘The Way of Anglican Communion: Walking Together Before God’.

Bishop George Sumner, Bishop of Dallas and a Communion Partner bishop, has written a wise article for ‘Covenant‘, ‘A Reflection on GAFCON III and ACNA’.

Reply: I am not sure these observations require reply, except for the general comment that they are very “Anglo-centric” and assume an authority for the Instruments which they have forfeited. This is a great tragedy, I admit, but it appears the Lord has used the stubbornness of Anglo-American Establishment to raise up a renewed Communion centered in the Global South.

As for the Communion Partner bishops in North America, many of whom are long-time friends, I wish them well in the course they have chosen. As for the proposed detente between TEC and ACNA, I think Archbishop Beach has stated the first conditions for genuine reconciliation: “Repent of your false teaching and practice,” and as a token of good faith, drop all current lawsuits against our churches.

When I was in England recently, I asked a number of Evangelical leaders what was to be done in the Church of England to stand firm in the faith. They gave various replies. When I posed this question to them – “Do you think the Church of England is in any position to lead the Anglican Communion” – they unanimously answered “No.” Do you agree?


We give thanks to God for the vibrancy of faith, delight in God’s Word, and the depth of joy shown amongst the GAFCON pilgrims to Jerusalem and echo Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians (3:18):

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Reply: I trust our fellow believers at Fulcrum will accept this reply to its Response as a serious offer of engagement, knowing that you share the hope with us,

that the Anglican Communion may become a mighty instrument in the hand of God for the salvation of the world. We invite all faithful Anglicans to join us in this great enterprise of proclaiming Christ faithfully to the nations.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

[From the Letter to the Churches]


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